Well, readers, here I am. Transformers: Age of Extinction has been out since last year, but I did not see it until recently. I was much preoccupied with other things when the film first came out, so I did not watch it in theaters. Plus, I was rather disappointed with the first three Transformers movies (especially Revenge of the Fallen), so I was not sure I wanted to see Age of Extinction.
But curiosity got the better of me, and one day I tried looking up some of the scenes from the film. I did this several times until I decided I should just rent the DVD and watch the movie. And that is what I did.
All things considered, I enjoyed Transformers: Age of Extinction more than the first three Transformers films. Age of Extinction’s lead human character, Cade Yeager (portrayed by Mark Walhberg), is a human who can roll with the punches in the film and is much less intimidated by his situation. Shia Labeouf’s character was too busy having a panic attack every time the flak started flying; I do not know what the scriptwriters were thinking with the first three Transformers films and, judging by the results, I am not sure I want to know.
Walhberg’s Cade Yeager was the big selling point of Extinction in my opinion, as I mentioned above. He did not whine about being thrust into an alien war, he jumped in and started shooting – several times!
The other great thing about Cade being the movie’s lead human, and the wonderful thing about his more mature approach to the battle, is how he bonds with Optimus Prime. Like Cade, Optimus is front and center in Age of Extinction. The Autobot leader’s previous roles in the prior Transformers films were somewhat distant and trimmed down. Optimus had a big part in each film, but none of those films managed to give us an idea of what really and truly drives him.
Yes, Optimus fights for truth, justice, and freedom in all the films. But he does not do this for himself; he does it for his Autobots. And humans, once the Autobots land on Earth.
This is where Age of Extinction gets really interesting. Optimus’ desire to protect and defend those who are not able to look out for themselves is sorely tested when a special CIA unit begins hunting down and destroying all the Cybertronians on Earth, without the knowledge of the government. Autobots and Decepticons alike are targeted and taken down, their remains hauled away to be studied and duplicated by a private company. Optimus himself narrowly escapes capture in Mexico City. He races across the border, severely injured, and finally goes into stasis inside an old theater in Paris, Texas.
Cade finds him there and, mistaking the Autobot leader for a wrecked semi-truck, buys him from the proprietor of the crumbling theater. He hauls the “truck” to the home he shares with his daughter, Tessa. Trying to earn enough money to pay off the mortgage, the electric bill (Cade is siphoning electricity off of the grid via his neighbor), as well as acquire enough money to put Tessa through college, Cade turns toward Optimus and decides to strip him down for parts. When he begins poking under the hood, however, he realizes he has not bought a truck but a Transformer.
Further prodding leads him to discover a missile in the Autobot’s engine. He pulls it out and learns the missile is live – though it does not blow up in his face. With the missile out of his engine, Optimus awakens and transforms.
Having been betrayed by humans, Optimus is not a happy camper when he comes to. But he is also not in a position to really defend himself either, let alone escape. Still, he is determined to protect his Autobots.
Drawn to the Autobot leader by sheer curiosity, Cade points out that Optimus will not get far in his current condition and offers to repair him. Personally, I think Cade was also moved by Optimus’ constant murmurs about returning to his Autobots. As a father, Cade understands what it is like to worry about someone he is supposed to take care of. The fact that this alien being cares about others of his kind in a similar way leads him to realize that Optimus is not a monster or a lump of mindless metal. He is, in essence, a father who is very much concerned about the Autobots under his command, as they are the closest thing he has to children.
I thought this theme was repeated several times in the film. It first recurred when the CIA arrive at Cade’s property and discover the missile he dug out of Optimus’ engine in the trash. When Cade slips and mentions he knows nothing about “him” in reference to the “truck” he had bought, the CIA pin him and Tessa to the ground. Threatening to kill Tessa unless Cade tells them where Optimus is, Cade says he was in the barn, even though the agents had already cleared the building. Whether Cade was aware that Optimus had ducked into his barn’s cellar or not, he gave the CIA agents no more information but begged them to release his daughter.
Hidden in the cellar, Optimus hears Tessa’s screams and Cade’s pleas. Knowing that Cade is still protecting him, even with the threat to his daughter’s life, Optimus busts out of the cellar and buys the Yeagers time to escape.
Optimus is, of course, naturally inclined to defend those who cannot defend themselves. But the interesting thing about this is he has been betrayed by humans, and although he allows Cade to begin repairing him, he is still wary of the human. So was it his natural protective instinct which made him come to the Yeagers’ defense, or was it hearing a human father trying desperately to protect his daughter?
Personally, I think it was the latter. Optimus would do whatever was necessary to protect his Autobots, and anyone with a cork eye could see Cade was willing to do anything he needed to do to keep his daughter safe.
Viewers do not have to wait much longer for more hints of Cade and Optimus’ growing friendship. After escaping the CIA, Optimus takes Cade, Tessa, and the girl’s now not-so-secret boyfriend, Shane, to the Nevada desert. There they meet up with the remaining Autobots – Crosshairs, Hound, Drift, and Bumblebee. When the humans make camp with the Autobots that night, Drift insults and starts a fight with Bee, prompting Crosshairs to say that he has been waiting for the other ‘Bots to kill each other off so he could go off on his own. Noting the dismal state of discipline among the Autobots, Cade turns to Optimus and says bluntly, “Well, it looks like you’ve been missed.”
While it is possible that Cade was being sarcastic, pointing out that Crosshairs and Drift were unconcerned about Optimus’ return, I have a different theory. To me, it sounded as if Cade was talking to Optimus as a fellow father, implying something like this in his statement, “See what the kids get up to while we dads are away? You leave ‘em alone for five minutes and they start a brawl which wrecks half the living room.”
Later, while working on infiltrating KSI, the company dismantling dead Autobots and Decepticons, Cade chides Tessa and Shane for getting cozy on a nearby couch. Tessa marches out in a fury and Cade mutters something like, “She never listens.”
Optimus’ reply is: “Yeah. I had the same problem with Bumblebee.”
In contrast to the friendship between Bee and Sam in the preceding Transformers movies, Cade and Optimus’ friendship is given much more attention and development in this film. Bee and Sam were too busy being teenagers in their separate worlds after the first Transformers film to really be friends. Sam had to leave Bumblebee behind when he went to college in Revenge of the Fallen, and in Dark of the Moon, he is barely allowed to contact any of the Autobots, let alone Bee.
It is possible that any sequel Transformers films will similarly separate Cade and Optimus, but for now I will not get into that. Suffice it to say that, in Age of Extinction, Optimus and Cade gain a great respect for each other because of the fact that they are both in positions of authority and care for those under their charge. Cade respects Optimus for this; he also understands his feelings of betrayal and bitter resentment towards humans.
For his part, Optimus learns from Cade that humans are prone to making mistakes. But mistakes, Cade points out, are how humans learn. If Optimus pays attention only to those humans who persist in error, then he will condemn not only them but all mankind – especially the innocent humans who learn from their mistakes – to an evil fate.
It is Cade’s hopefulness, his willingness to pick himself up and dust himself off after making a mistake, which leads Optimus to realize that, while humans and Cybertronians are very different from each other, they do have one thing in common. They are equally capable of good and evil. There are humans who are as evil as Decepticons. The wheat and the thorns grow up together; until harvest time, there is no way to separate them without hurting the wheat.
Optimus learns the lesson well, telling the Autobots before he leaves Earth to protect the Yeagers and to “protect all they can be.”
On the whole, Age of Extinction is a definite improvement over the previous Transformers films. It is a bit too long, but it is much better than the first three movies and gives me hope that any sequel Transformer installments will only get better.
So, readers, “Let’s roll out!”
The Mithril Guardian